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The Pit and the Pendulum, Part 2


Robert Baldwin, Music Director for the Salt Lake Symphony, Music Director for the Utah Philharmonia, and Director of Orchestral Activities at the University of Utah shares more of his thoughts on the importance of rhythm, meter, and tempo in music. He shares that music is not a perfect mathematical equation and neither is time in a musical piece. There is always ebb and flow. There is always adaptation, especially in live performances.

Before the Downbeat

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I’ll be climbing out of the pit after the last run of Susannah tonight.  It’s been a great experience, and full of potential for the pondering mind.  Inevitability.  Events that lead to something else.  The Grand Finale.  That incessant beat of the clock, metronome, and human heart; counting down to a predestined end.  Is this where we find meaningful rhythm and flow?  Or is it rather a stream into which we we enter, subdivide, and play?   Always present.  Welcoming us to participate.

The problem with the first example, is that it is too clinical, too easy.  In my experience it’s also completely wrong.  The thought that music, creativity, or life itself can be relegated to mere numbers is a popular misconception.  Yes, music is math.  Life is math.  Yes, proportions, ratios and relationships certainly exist.  But as human beings, our lives simply don’t operate this way.  Science is starting to…

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Rhythm in Music


Robert Baldwin, Music Director for the Salt Lake Symphony, Music Director for the Utah Philharmonia, and Director of Orchestral Activities at the University of Utah shares his thoughts on the importance of rhythm, meter, and tempo – an aspect of music often neglected when focusing on notes, pitches, timbre, sound quality, etc.

Dr. Craig Jessop, director of the American Festival Chorus, stresses this as well. Dr. Jessop uses “count singing” – a method he inherited from studying with Robert Shaw and the Robert Shaw Singers. This is where the notes are sung by singing “One, Two, Tee, Four”. This ensures the musicians keep an “inner pulse” going on inside their head when the time comes to put actual words to the music. It also helps musicians know exactly when notes are moving, beginning and ending of phrases, and note durations. Dr. Jessop swears by this practice.

Before the Downbeat

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I’ve emerged from the pit thinking about rhythm and tempo.  I’m there all week with the orchestra putting together Carlisle Floyd’s opera, Susannah.  There’s a lot that can go wrong on stage, and even more with this show as it includes live gunshots!  All in all, it was a good first rehearsal.  The only lingering issues are finding a consensus with rhythm and tempo.

Certainly, these are two things that are very important to my craft as a conductor.  Tempo control, metric organization and rhythmic precision are all something that is a great responsibility for all of us–the conductor, singer, and orchestra.  But behind all my admonishments to “watch the stick,” “play the subdivision correctly,” and  “don’t rush (or drag),” there is a deeper truth to the importance of flow and rhythm in the music.

“Time is like a superglue, keeping our story in order as we navigate the world…

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Reflections from the Past


Robert Baldwin, Music Director for the Salt Lake Symphony and Director of Orchestral Activities at the University of Utah, shares his insight into Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” and Ottorino Respighi’s “Church Windows.” The Utah Philharmonia will be performing these pieces this Thursday at the Libby Gardner Concert Hall.

Before the Downbeat

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In Back to the Future, Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) travels from 1985 back to the time when his parents were young, ancient 1955.  He experiences all sorts of awkward situations, but in the end discovers that he shares many traits with his parents.   In essence, they are not really much different (although he is a lot cooler, naturally). Marty learns valuable lessons from the past that help him alter the perspective of his own life (and, of course, save the day).

The human mind has always been fascinated with the past, whether it’s our individual lives, or the collective history of an entire civilization.  We somehow believe that it is possible to find something important by studying the past. It might be lost wisdom.  Perhaps it is secret knowledge.  But in the end, all that we are really trying to do is understand something about ourselves.

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Every Breath You Take


Robert Baldwin, Music Director for the Salt Lake Symphony and Director of Orchestral Activities at the University of Utah, shares his thoughts and techniques of how to connect to music through the breath. He describes how essential the breath is to how we live our lives as well as the motion of music. A wonderful article!

Before the Downbeat

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Life’s first breath.  A pause filled with potential.  Then you scream.  While that may be the last time parents are overjoyed at hearing the sound, it is a reality of the beginning of life, the expression of potential. Certainly, genetics, environment and education will come into play soon enough.  But I invite you to consider that first event: a breath, a pause, an utterance.  Or put another way: Possibility, Preparation, Sound.

Our expression of music comes from this very personal space.  No one can exist, sustain, or express life without it.  The ancient Greeks had a word for breath: pneuma.  Interestingly, this was the same word they used for spirit.   They, along with people from many traditions, considered breath and spirit to be inseparable.  A  South American shaman uses breath as a magical curing device.  A Christian mystic chants long phrases, intoning praise.  Ancient mariners from many traditions…

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